It does have to be said that every now and then a game will bring together so many elements from different games and genres that quite frankly leave me stumped as to how the developers came up with the idea in the first place. This is very much the case with the latest surprising offering from the amazing TEAM 17 with Yoku’s Island Express and it is just as charming to play as it is a surprise.
The game has you playing as Yoku the Dung Beetle, who thankfully for the game has an actual ball he clings to instead of you know what, who is on his way to Mokumana Island to start his new job as the Postmaster. Upon reaching the island he immediately meets the now departing Postmaster in Posterodactyl who explains that he is very much happy to be relieved of his duties as something very strange has begun to happen on the island. Pretty much just leaving Yoku to it all, he flies off and its time for Yoku to get on with his job.
Straight away I was hit by the just lovely visuals and art style the game has which is an almost blend of Rayman style looks with a water coloured pallet, bright and vibrate colours with just delightful animation for Yoku’s movement with the ball as he pushes it around to move around the island. The musical score for this game is also just absolutely spot on and never becomes annoying at any point during play and is very catchy, I found myself humming along both during play and after closing the game. It all comes together to make Mokumana island an enjoyable place to be.
As Yoku rolls his ball around the island he begins to meet new characters and most will give him tasks to do in a very ‘help me to help you’ style of quest. This is mainly used to help open up new areas of the island as some will be blocked off until Yoku can fetch a certain item that character will need to give access to a new area. Unlike other games that use the same on screen text to show dialogue exchanges with a gibberish sound to represent the voices, it never becomes annoying unlike Yooka-Laylee for example which just grated on me.
So the big surprise in the gameplay comes in how it merges the usual cute platforming style game with pinball. Yup that’s right, pinball. Utilising his ball, Yoku can be bounced around the island using the flippers found positioned all over the shop with the left and right triggers on the controller used to activate the left or right flippers which are coloured blue for left and orange for right. The flippers help Yoku reach higher levels of the island and Yoku seems perfectly happy just to have the ball shoot off with him attached to it. The pinball element really comes to life however in the puzzle sections with certain parts of the island serving as mini pinball tables which need to be solved to order to reach a new location or pathway. These little table style puzzles are well designed to both capture the essence of a pinball table but also in how the map design incorporates them so effortlessly into the island itself.
As Yoku moves around the island he will pick up pieces of fruit which will serve as a kind of currency through the game to either buy upgrades from fellow islanders or to unlock new flippers or bounce pads and as Yoku completes tasks for some of the islanders they will give Yoku a new ability which will aid him in some of the more complex pinball table puzzles. In fact quite a lot of what Yoku and players will discover in the first hour or so of exploring the island will reveal certain puzzles and areas that clearly require an upgrade or new skill in order to complete, which means some of the island and some secrets will require Yoku to return to areas previously visited throughout the game as Yoku develops and collects new skills. I really liked this element as it gives the freedom to explore the island but encourages revisiting earlier areas as well. To start with the island map is mostly covered in fog until Yoku discovers that area but story critical objectives are still marked giving a good idea of what direction the player needs to travel in to reach them.
Another aspect I did enjoy is that outside of boss fights, there is no combat in the game, making this perfect for a younger audience but also a nice change of pace from other games. This is just a pleasant game to be in that I found myself just smiling from playing it. The pinball table puzzles capture the essence of a real pinball table without being so complicated as to be trapped in one though some will take some working out to see where to exit or move into the next section of the puzzle but there is always a way to exit the table should a skill or upgrade be required to continue. I love the interactions with the other characters and the different areas of the island compliment and contrast each other so well as you progress through the game.
The humour is another aspect I enjoyed as you start to discover just how fed up with the job the former Postmaster was and it is very clear that the moment he knew he was being replaced with Yoku that he basically just stopped doing his job as you find the post office in a right mess with hundreds of letters and packages left undelivered. This adds a nice side mission system for the game that sits alongside the main story objectives as Yoku has to return to the post office to collect more late packages to be delivered. It really is just a well thought out and designed objective system that gives plenty of reasons to just enjoy being in the game.
Yoku’s Island Express is a very loveable game that I found to be as fun as it was relaxing to play. It just made me happy to be on the island as Yoku, humming along to the songs and pinging poor Yoku and his ball all over the place with the pinball elements. It could be said that most of the objectives just rely on doing fetch quests but then Yoku is a postman so none of that ever reaches the boring repetitive stage you might expect. The pinball table puzzles are challenging enough without being frustrating or progress stopping which makes this a great family game for different ages.
It came as a great and welcome to surprise to find this game as enjoyable to play and having a big old grin on my face each and every time I played this made it my go to game to just chill with. Though I played this on Xbox One, I can fully see how this would make a great game for those with a Nintendo Switch as well and it loses nothing from being on a main console either, it is just a absolute joy to play that for the low asking price as well of £15.99, Yoku’s Island Express is a title that successfully brings together elements that really shouldn’t work together but does so just brilliantly.
This has already become of my highlights of 2018 so far and a must have in your game library title and if being really honest, Yoku is far more reliable at delivering mail than my own postman!